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OPINION: Juan Sartori’s involvement with Sunderland sets an exciting course for our club’s future

With links to AS Monaco and a Rolodex chock full of impressive business contacts, what exactly does Juan Sartori’s 20% stake in Sunderland AFC suggest about the club’s future?

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

In a recent interview with Charlie Methven, FC Business Magazine asked some intriguing questions of Sunderland’s part-owner. A recurring theme that kept emerging throughout the exchange was the fact that the club has been run into the ground in recent years due to woefully inadequate ownership and management.

Methven summed up the difficult job he and Stewart Donald inherited when they purchased the club when saying:

It was terrible. Fear, delusion, denial, lack of direction, confusion. The lot. Stewart and I had never come across such a broken business. We performed very major surgery in the first few weeks, reducing the non-playing wage bill from £8.5 million to £5 million. The levels of over-staffing were horrendous. SAFC was employing almost twice as many people as Newcastle! There are some fantastic people at the club, but the cumulative failures of leadership over a protracted period have had a scarring effect that will take a while to heal fully.

The very surgery Martin Bain was employed to do was in fact undertaken by the new owners, yet perhaps the fact that they have shared the issues found within the club has gone some way to alleviating public scorn.

As much as it was interesting to hear Charlie Methven’s inside take on life at the club thus far, his words raised a pertinent point that many people are beginning to consider: what are the plans for the future?

Sartori & Methven mingle with fans.
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Juan Sartori’s purchase of a 20% minority stake in SAFC leads to further interesting possibilities, and indeed questions. A multi-millionaire in his own right, Sartori’s father-in-law is multi-billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev - owner of AS Monaco FC.

The Uruguayan businessman spoke to the club’s website last week, and noted that he sees Sunderland as having:

A lot of potential and all the infrastructure is already here, but something has been missing, otherwise the club wouldn’t be in this situation.

We think we have the skills, and especially the willingness, to really put the effort and dedication into making this right, and to taking the club back to where we believe it deserves to be.

But where will Sartori fit into Sunderland’s plans?

Methven and Stewart Donald have both continuously mentioned a specific buzz-word when asked about their aims and ambitions of the club: sustainability.

In fact, Methven argued that was exactly the aim of the new owners’ current business-plan.

Methven noted the club has looked to slash running costs which he says should come down to “£22 million or maybe £23 million” by next season, while that will be coupled with revenue of around £20 million coming into the club; this will be boosted by a drive to find sponsorship deals, which had previously been neglected by the old regime.

Methven argued that this gap would seemingly be exceeded in the event of promotion back to the Championship, but if not then Stewart Donald and Juan Sartori could handle any issues in the meantime. Furthermore, Methven also suggested any future issues could well be plugged by selling academy products for large fees.

Netherlands v England - International Friendly
Serious cash was brought into the club by the sales of these two England stars - who’ll be next?
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Sartori’s involvement, whilst seemingly a limited one presently, will undoubtedly become far more important in years to come, though.

Charlie Methven noted in the FC Business interview that much of the club’s future plans obviously revolve around promotion, though the club will be economically safe should that success fail to be realized this season. And while Sartori’s presence may not yield immediate returns, his sizeable 20% share of the club suggests heavy involvement as the club continues to grow.

In fact, some of the more keen Sunderland fans out there will have delved into the proposed takeover of Oxford United which involved Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven - there they will have seen Juan Sartori’s name mentioned as a potential buyer.

The most interesting, and pertinent, part of the above image is point number seven, which reads:

7. Sartori - as Donald will confirm, if asked - had the backing of Monaco for OUFC to become a partner club if he could get Oxford promoted to the Championship. But not in League 1. Therefore, his plan was to inject significant capital to gain promotion to League 1, either move the stadium or build the fourth stand as part of the new lease with Kassam and start the partnership with Monaco.

So, the question now must be considered as to whether Sartori’s part-ownership of SAFC will also prove to be a pathway to securing a partnership with one of Europe’s most intriguing clubs.

Much like ‘the Dortmund model’ that both Methven and Donald have alluded to - AS Monaco are also in the business of buying talent which they develop and sell at a profit. Could Sartori’s involvement with the club see Sunderland utilize the same methods that have seen the French side net over £200 million in transfer profits over the last several years?

Whatever direction Sunderland choose, Juan Sartori’s involvement alongside the plans being laid in place by the new owners looks to be an exciting prospect for Sunderland fans. Remaining in the here and now of League One is the top priority, of course - but the future looks bright for all connected with the club.

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